Its been four years but appears like yesterday, touching memories of retirement of a legend.

The day he announced his retirement from all forms of cricket, I was in two minds. Do I witness the farewell or cherish the memories of his 120 runs in the famous tie match in the world cup which I enjoyed from the best possible seats in the stadium. But the urge to see him in action once again and support from great buddies, I ended up in Mumbai. The city of Mumbai was all set to bid farewell to the “local boy” by displaying huge hoardings especially in Shivaji Park area where he developed his game initially.

Due to bad planning (or should I say too much confidence in the WI team), I arrived at the stadium on the third day of the match. Of course I watched his batting on the television at home. The fluency with which he batted reminded me of his early years. It looked like he had decided to enjoy his last game to the fullest. The in-form top order and emergence of Rohit as master class must have given him the extra freedom.

On the morning of the third day WI had 7 wickets in hand.  The chances of India batting in the second innings was close to zero, so the least I hoped was to see WI bat the whole day so that I can see him on the ground as long as possible. The crowd was in the mood to cheer likes of Gayle and Chanderpaul and prayed for their double centuries. In fact before entering the stadium my friend was desperately looking for a WI flag.  There were chants of “we want Ishant” considering his recent performances. All this was obviously to watch Sachin bat again one last time. Gayle departed early and we all started hoping to watch Sachin bowl few overs. With Ashwin and Ojha bowling so well it was not easy for Dhoni to disrupt the rhythm. The crowd booed Dhoni for sometime and finally Dhoni handed over the ball to Sachin.  If you ask me I didn’t care really about him bowling, as I just wanted to watch him as long as I can and boy I was lucky as he fielded at the boundary line right in front of our stand.

Having said, I did enjoy his bowling. Wickets were falling in heap and every time the ball came towards him I thought this is it. This is the final time I will see him in action. Finally the last wicket fell and the Indian team gave him a well deserved guard of honour. 

Suddenly all the memories started flashing in front of my eyes. We used to wake up at 4 AM in the college hostel when he played in Australia, when waking up for the 11 AM college was a huge achievement. The 10 hour long drive to Toronto in 1998, to watch him live for the first time, but plan foiled by one Mr Kalmadi.  We literally spent the whole night adjusting the azimuth angle to install a Dish in New Jersey to watch the ‘99 world cup. Then there was the 2001 Australia series, the fabulous string of his innings in the 2003 world cup, and the huge disappointment when he got out in the final. 

The Ind-Aus ODI in Bangalore 2004 where I watched him live for the first time. The 2008 CuB finals, which reminded the stormy innings of Sharjah back in 1998.  The entire 2011 world cup and the golden chance of meeting him in person, all those 24 years passed like a slideshow and then I realized this memory bank is now frozen. There will be no new stories to add anymore.  For all these years Sachin was my stress buster. He provided the much needed work-life balance. 

Emotions filled my eyes while watching him enter the stadium for the final time. His farewell speech was very touching and down to earth. The final act of touching the 22 yards in respect won many hearts. It really showed that he belonged to the culture of worshiping your work place.  The way he talked about his family and close friends showed his humbleness. Probably that was the key to his long career. It was the difference between him and other players from around the world who were compared equally with him but fizzled out after some period. His humble and clean image was instrumental in connecting to the fans. 
People from all age groups were present in the stands to catch the final glimpse that day. I have not seen so much devoted fan following for any other player than Sachin. My mother summed the feelings of all senior women fans when she said she felt as if her son is retiring today.  The connection between Sachin and his fans was (rather still is) that strong. 

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a fan of Sachin, Rahul and then Cricket. These two along with Ganguly, Kumble and Laxman have immense contribution to Indian cricket and we all cricket lovers should acknowledge that. I am glad to see the current team following their footsteps and taking the game to the next level.

Though cricket will continue to be played, and will be watched by millions, somewhere we will miss Sachin the player for sure.
A big big salute to the legend. Thanks for all the entertainment and the lessons you taught us for the past 24 years.  It was pleasure to watch Indian cricket because of you.

                                                           Sarang Gadgil      

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